Six years…and that’s not counting the revisions. Entire residential subdivisions have sprung up around you in less time. New sections of interstate have been constructed. National monuments refaced. Six years ago, you helped elect a new President and have since come to regret it. Six years ago you had no children. Now, you have two. In six years, the few wily strands of gray hair you once had have spread across your head like tundra. Dictators have been deposed. Big-name celebrities have died. And all along, you’ve sat right there at that chair, staring out past the blinking cursor of your computer screen through a window as the seasons have paraded past.
Warning: This post contains hero-worship.
We all wonder if our writing is good enough. Good enough for an agent, a publisher, a reviewer, our cat.
Last fall, I followed Rachel Thompson’s exchanges with a not-to-be mentioned book guru who was slamming all self-published authors with a broad brush. She, and her commenters, made many valid counter-points (better slams). Proud as I was of Rachel (whom I met once for a few seconds at SFWC13, so we’re almost friends), I have to admit the whole episode made me quake in my boots a little. Putting my writing “out there” might just be akin to showing off the new dress my mother made to the mean girls on the playground. No Matter how great of a seamstress my mom was, mean girls are, well, …mean.
To know in a way mortality could never award how rhythmic and intertwined the dance of night and day was. To know the Darwinistic injustice of a jay-raided nest and hear the first hymn of autumn as it roared across the valley and cry in happy sadness with the stars at night. If some period of servitude was required from all who die, and if the grand design required one to ache from the sting of life’s missteps, then let it happen here. For every meadow was its own village, every weed and sprig its own prefecture.
–The Portraits of Gods (excerpt)
Emerging from a week spent alone in the solitude of our cabin is like stepping out from a dark theater into the bright day. Traffic lights blare like neon. Storefront windows reflect the sun like a thousand mirrors. The people on the street glance at you in passing as if sensing your struggle to readjust. When I stop for fuel, I make idle chatter with the guy at the pump next to mine and my voice sounds tinny from its underuse.
In solitude, you see life through a different filter. It’s the catalyst for creativity. Everything is stripped down. Empirical. Shedding the fear of being judged, the taint of seeking acceptance, you get to be yourself; so much so that you feel almost fraudulent when you consider the person you are when you’re with others.
There’s a transformation that takes over when I’m alone. The funny, self-deprecating guy you might encounter in social gatherings is gone, replaced by a man whom I suspect—and hope—is my essential self. Genuine. Calm. Perceptive to every nuance of my existence. Accepting in knowing that everything I see will outlast me.
Campfires by night. Hiking by day. Sitting out in a golden meadow where dragonflies dip and rise over the reeds in a summer dance. Clothing-optional dips in our lake. The truth is, I’m a better man—and writer—because of it. For as long as you don’t equate periods of being alone with sadness, the inner peace you feel from a bit of solitude makes you realize that in life, there is nothing more to wish for.
We know what’s supposed to inspire us. Nature. Music. Other things that inspire awe. But, do we really recognize inspiration when we see it? Do we recognize it when inspiration hits us?
I don’t. Especially when I hold “inspiring” to a higher standard. Inspiration isn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s what galvanizes someone to take action.
Looking back at the interactions and events that sparked a change in my life, I call them by other names.
If you’ve ever spent time in a morgue—and let’s face it, we all will some day—then you’ll remark on just how spic-and-span everything looks. Scrubbed, ivory-colored, tiled walls and gleaming linoleum. Shiny stainless steel pans and scales hanging everywhere you look. Ultraviolet bug lights making periodic ZAP sounds beneath the soft hiss of constantly flowing positive air. And then there’s the VIP seat.